The God of Israel is God

26 “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, 28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known. 29 And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. 30 Are they not beyond the Jordan, west of the road, toward the going down of the sun, in the land of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah, opposite Gilgal, beside the oak of Moreh? 31 For you are to cross over the Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you. And when you possess it and live in it, 32 you shall be careful to do all the statutes and the rules that I am setting before you today. – Deuteronomy 11:26-32 ESV

Moses has issued a call to the people of Israel that they obey each and every command that God has given them, but he has added that they were to do it wholeheartedly and motivated by a love for God and all that He has done for them. And Moses has made it quite clear that obedience will result in the blessings of God, in the form of His continued presence, the benefit of His power, and His miraculous provision of all their needs.

But should they choose to disobey God, they would experience His wrath in the form of judgment. They were His chosen people, but if they made the ill-informed decision to live like all the other nations, He would treat them that way. Again, the covenant God was making with Israel was not just about a list of rules to be obeyed, but about a unique relationship that needed to be fully appreciated and painstakingly maintained. God had set them apart as His own and had showered them with His undeserved mercy, grace, and love. But, as part of their relationship as His people, they were going to have to return that love, and one of the primary proofs of their affection would be their willful obedience to His commands. Even Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV).

And one of the greatest expressions of their lack of love for God would be their pursuit of false gods. God had forbidden them to seek and serve any other gods. To do so would be a blatant display of infidelity on their part. Like a marriage partner committing adultery, the Israelites would be communicating to God, through their actions, that He was not enough for them. Their pursuit of false gods would be an egregious breaking of trust and flagrant proof of their lack of love for God. That’s why Moses warned them, “you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before” (Deuteronomy 11:28 NLT).

Their practice of idolatry would be nothing less than infidelity. Giving their affections and attentions to another god, after all God Almighty had done for them, would be seen as an affront and dealt with accordingly.

So, Moses told the people of Israel that, upon their arrival in the land, they were to engage in a rather strange ceremony. He commanded them to gather in the valley located between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Once there, they were to engage in a recitation of the blessings and the curses pronounced by God. And the book of Joshua provides a glimpse into how this ceremony actually took place.

Then all the Israelites—foreigners and native-born alike—along with the elders, officers, and judges, were divided into two groups. One group stood in front of Mount Gerizim, the other in front of Mount Ebal. Each group faced the other, and between them stood the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant. This was all done according to the commands that Moses, the servant of the Lord, had previously given for blessing the people of Israel.

Joshua then read to them all the blessings and curses Moses had written in the Book of Instruction. Every word of every command that Moses had ever given was read to the entire assembly of Israel, including the women and children and the foreigners who lived among them. – Joshua 8:33-34 NLT

This event took place after Israel had defeated the cities of Jericho and Ai. The conquest of Jericho had been a miraculous, God-ordained victory. But Ai had been a different story. A single Israelite, a man named Achan, had disobeyed God and taken as booty some of the treasure from Jericho that God had declared off-limits. And his action had resulted in the Israelites’ defeat at Ai. It was not until the sin within the camp was eradicated that God allowed Israel to gain victory over the city of Ai. And it was immediately after their defeat of Ai that the people made their way to the valley between the two mountains and heard Joshua read all the blessings and the curses.

Moses’ choice of this location was strategic. It would have been very familiar to the people of Israel because it had historic significance. It was in this valley that Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, had erected an altar to God after he had arrived in the land of Canaan for the first time. This momentous event was eventually recorded by Moses in the book of Genesis but would have been passed down orally from one generation to another.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. – Genesis 12:4-7 ESV

This location was considered sacred, having been the exact place where Abraham had worshiped God. Years later, Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, would buy a plot of land and erect another altar to God in the very same spot.

Later, having traveled all the way from Paddan-aram, Jacob arrived safely at the town of Shechem, in the land of Canaan. There he set up camp outside the town. Jacob bought the plot of land where he camped from the family of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for 100 pieces of silver. And there he built an altar and named it El-Elohe-Israel. – Genesis 33:18-20 NLT

The name he gave this place, El-Elohe-Israel, means “The God of Israel is God.” He was honoring God as the one and only God of the people of Israel. There were no other gods. It is likely that the Israelites were familiar with this name and that they knew the sacred significance of the spot to which Moses was commanding them to gather once they arrived in the land.

God was to be their God – their one and only God. He had more than proven His qualifications and demonstrated His singular status as the one true God. And He had demonstrated His love for them by choosing them as His own, rescuing them from their captivity in Egypt, guiding them to the land of Canaan, and was now ready to give them victory over all the nations who occupied the land. There was no question in Moses’ mind that God was going to do what He had promised to do. God was going to give them possession of the land, which is why Moses so confidently told them, “when you possess it and live in it…” It was as good as done.

God was going to do His part, but they were going to have to keep their end of the covenant agreement, which Moses made sure they understood.

“…you shall be careful to do all the statutes and the rules that I am setting before you today.” – Deuteronomy 11:32 ESV

Their obedience was not an option. The covenant God had made with them was conditional, and it was predicated on their keeping of His commands. If they obeyed, they would enjoy unprecedented success and unparalleled blessing from God. But if they disobeyed, the consequences would be severe.

The key to Israel’s future success was their acknowledgment of God as the God of Israel. Theirs was to be a monogamous relationship. No infidelity. No idolatry. No worship of any other gods. No unfaithfulness or misplaced affection. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was to be their God – their one and only God. And as long as they remained faithful, God would prove unwavering in His love and unbounded in His blessings.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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The Choice Is Yours

But you, draw near,
    sons of the sorceress,
    offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman.
Whom are you mocking?
    Against whom do you open your mouth wide
    and stick out your tongue?
Are you not children of transgression,
    the offspring of deceit,
you who burn with lust among the oaks,
    under every green tree,
who slaughter your children in the valleys,
    under the clefts of the rocks?
Among the smooth stones of the valley is your portion;
    they, they, are your lot;
to them you have poured out a drink offering,
    you have brought a grain offering.
    Shall I relent for these things?
On a high and lofty mountain
    you have set your bed,
    and there you went up to offer sacrifice.
Behind the door and the doorpost
    you have set up your memorial;
for, deserting me, you have uncovered your bed,
    you have gone up to it,
    you have made it wide;
and you have made a covenant for yourself with them,
    you have loved their bed,
    you have looked on nakedness.
You journeyed to the king with oil
    and multiplied your perfumes;
you sent your envoys far off,
    and sent down even to Sheol.
10 You were wearied with the length of your way,
    but you did not say, “It is hopeless”;
you found new life for your strength,
    and so you were not faint.

11 Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
    did not lay it to heart?
Have I not held my peace, even for a long time,
    and you do not fear me?
12 I will declare your righteousness and your deeds,
    but they will not profit you.
13 When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!
    The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.
But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain.Isaiah 57:3-13 ESV

After castigating and condemning the watchmen, the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of Judah, God turns His attention to the people. While they had been misinformed and mislead by the false prophets, they were not without a measure of guilt. And God makes it painfully clear what He thought about their behavior towards Him. He addresses them in not-so-flattering terms, calling them “sons of sorcerors, offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman” (Isaiah 57:3 ESV). The New Living Translation makes it even more unpleasant, translating verse3 as “you witches’ children, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!” And God is not done. he goes on to describe them as “children of transgression, the offspring of deceit” (Isaiah 57:4 ESV).

God is not happy with them. And all these unflattering appellations are tied directly to their practice of idolatry. God is unsparing in His accusations against them. Like a criminal prosecutor in a court of law, God lays out His evidence, providing more than enough proof to convict the people of Judah of their crime and justify their well-deserved punishment.

God accuses them of worshiping their false gods under every oak and green tree they can find and doing so with passion. The Hebrew word translated as “passion” is chamam and it carries a sexual connotation. It can be translated as “inflamed” or “aroused.” To put it in rather graphic terms, the people of Judah “got off” on practicing idolatry. They set up shrines and high places all over the land of Canaan, where they worshiped their false deities and even practiced child sacrifice as part of their passionate adoration of their gods. And God had been very clear in His commands regarding child sacrifice.

“Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice to Molech, for you must not bring shame on the name of your God. I am the LORD.”  – Leviticus 18:21 NLT

“Give the people of Israel these instructions, which apply both to native Israelites and to the foreigners living in Israel. If any of them offer their children as a sacrifice to Molech, they must be put to death.” – Leviticus 20:2 NLT

“I myself will turn against them and cut them off from the community, because they have defiled my sanctuary and brought shame on my holy name by offering their children to Molech.” – Leviticus 20:3 NLT

Yet, here was God, generations later, accusing His people of doing exactly what He had told them not to do. They had idols under the trees, in the valleys, on top of the mountains, and just about every other place you could imagine. False gods were ubiquitous in Judah. And in the very act of worship their many false gods, they were proving themselves unfaithful and spiritually adulterous to the one true God. Like a faithful husband speaking to his promiscuous wife, God tells them, “You have left me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods. You have committed yourselves to them. You love to look at their naked bodies” (Isaiah 57:8 NLT).

Their passion for their false gods was relentless. Many of their gods were the result of political or military alliances with pagan nations. Envoys from Judah would travel long distances to worship the false gods of their potential allies, carrying olive oil and perfume to use as tributes to these idols. God describes them as constantly in search of some god who could provide them what they were seeking. And just when they would start to lose hope, they would discover yet another potential savior in the form of a statue made of stone, wood or precious metal.

“You grew weary in your search,
    but you never gave up.
Desire gave you renewed strength,
    and you did not grow weary.” – Isaiah 57:10 NLT

In the face of God’s whithering charges against them, He poses a question:

“Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
    did not lay it to heart?” – Isaiah 57:11 ESV

Obviously, they had not feared God, or they wouldn’t have disobeyed His commands like they had. So, was their unfaithfulness driven by fear of their enemies? Or was it due to fear of their enemies’ gods? Whatever the case, they had not exhited any fear of God, even though He had displayed tremendous patience with them. Now, God was done showing them patience. And, knowing that they would argue with Him and try to present themselves as faithful servants who had done acts of righteousness deserving of His grace and mercy, God breaks the not-so-good news to them.

“Now I will expose your so-called good deeds.
    None of them will help you.” – Isaiah 57:12 NLT

Later on in this very same book, Isaiah will deliver some seriously bad news to the people of Judah, that will blow their concept of self-righteousness out of the water.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways.
But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
    how can people like us be saved?
We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:5-6 NLT

They had no righteous deeds. Their best deeds done on their best day with the best of intentions were worthless in the eyes of God. He could see into their hearts. And as God stated earlier in the book of Isaiah, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah29:13 NLT). 

So, God offers His disobedient and idolatrous people a challenge. The next time they faced trouble, He suggests that they call on their false gods to save them. And, because God has already made it clear that the next thing that was going to happen to them would be His judgment of them, He was basically taunting them to use their gods to stop Him. But God lets them know the outcome ahead of time.

“The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.” – Isaiah 57:13 ESV

They will prove laughingly impotent. But God says that “whoever trusts in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13 NLT). They could continue to trust in their false gods. They could passionately pursue deliverance from lifeless idols or put their hope in the God of the universe. The choice was theirs, but the outcome of that choice was completely up to God and not up for debate.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Message of Love.

The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. – Hosea 1:1 ESV

Amos was a prophet. As such, he was a spokesman for God. He acts as God’s voice, so-to-speak, proclaiming God’s pending judgment against the people of Israel for their rebellion against His law. Amos prophesied during the time of the two kingdoms. After Solomon, the son of David, had ended his reign by worshiping the idols of his many wives, God split the kingdom in two. Ten tribes would form the nation of Israel to the north and two tribes would remain in the south, forming the nation of Judah. From that point forward there would be two different kings over the two separate nations, and there would be constant animosity between the tribes. Amos would prophesy during the reign of Jeroboam II, the king of Israel. During that same time, the southern kingdom of Judah would have four different kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.

When God called Hosea to begin his ministry, the nation of Israel was experiencing a time of prosperity. The book of 2 Kings records, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Judah’s King Amaziah, son of Joash, Jeroboam son of Joash became king over Israel. He reigned for forty-one years in Samaria” (2 Kings 14:23 ESV). Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom. We’re told that Jeroboam II “restored the border of Israel from Lebo Hamath in the north to the sea of the Arabah in the south, in accordance with the word of the Lord God of Israel announced through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher” (2 Kings 14:25 ESV). As king, he experienced great “military success in restoring Israelite control over Damascus and Hamath” (2 Kings 14:28 ESV). But there was a sinister side to King Jeroboam. “He did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not repudiate the sinful ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat who encouraged Israel to sin” (2 Kings 14:24 ESV). In other words, he followed in the footsteps of his namesake, King Jeroboam I.

Jeroboam I, the first king of the northern kingdom, had been placed there by God. While Solomon was still on the thrown over the as-yet-undivided nation of Israel, God sent his prophet, Ahijah, to Jeroboam with news. God had instructed Ahijah to take his new cloak and tear it into 12 pieces, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. He gave ten of the pieces to Jeroboam, saying, “Take ten of these pieces, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten of the tribes to you!…For Solomon has abandoned me and worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess fo the Sidonians; Chemosh, the god of Moab; and Molech, the god of the Ammonites. He has not followed my ways and done what is pleasing in my sight. He has not obeyed my decrees and regulations as David his father did” (1 Kings 11:31-33 NLT). God went on to tell Jeroboam, “And I will place you on the throne of Israel, and you will rule over all that your heart desires. If you listen to what I tell you and follow my ways and do whatever I consider to be right, and if you obey my decrees and commands, as my servant David did, then I will always be with you. I will establish an enduring dynasty for you as I did for David, and I will give Israel to you. Because of Solomon’s sin I will punish the descendants of David—though not forever” (1 Kings 11:37-39 NLT).

Jeroboam I, having heard the word of God through His prophet, would arrogantly use his new-found power as king of the northern tribes to do what he wanted to do. Fearing that the ten tribes would eventually rebel against him, Jeroboam came up with a plan to prevent them from having to return to Jerusalem, located in the heart of Israel to the south. He feared that if they returned there each year to offer sacrifices to Yahweh, they would eventually turn on him. So he had two golden calves made and set them up in Bethel and Dan, telling the people of Israel, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!” (1 Kings 12:28 NLT). He went on to ordain his own priests and establish his own religious festivals.

There was a long line of kings to rule of Israel after Jeroboam I died. And all of them share the same sad legacy. They all “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 14:24 NLT). Of Jeroboam II, it is said, “He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had led Israel to commit” (2 Kings 14:24 NLT). So it was into that context that Hosea was called by God to prophesy. Years of sin, rebellion and apostasy had long hardened the hearts of the people. Generations of idol worship had caused them to forget Yahweh. But in the midst of all of this, God would bring his message regarding the sins of the people of Israel, the coming judgment, the means of salvation, and His steadfast love. And He would choose to do it through Hosea, this simple servant who would be required to model the faithful love of God through his own life. Hosea would have the distinct privilege and unbelievable burden to demonstrate in real life what the love of God looks like. The story of Hosea is one of spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness, but also of Godly love and forgiveness. Hosea would have the unenviable position of having to experience what God does every time His people spurn His love and reject His appeals to return to Him in repentance. This book is a call to spiritual fidelity and faithfulness. It is a warning against taking God’s mercy and grace for granted.

It is interesting to note that Hosea’s name means, “He [Yahweh] has saved” and is a variation of “Joshua” which in the Greek is translated, Jesus. Hosea will be called on by God to sacrifice everything in order to restore his unfaithful wife. And we must never forget that God sacrificed His greatest treasure, His Son, in order to restore us to a right relationship with Himself.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation – Romans 5:8-9 NLT

Proverbs 5d

Words Worth Heeding.

“Drink water from your own well – share your love only with your wife. Why spill the water of your springs in the streets, having sex with just anyone?” – Proverbs 5:15-16 NLT

These are the passionate words of a father to his son. He is pleading with him to remain faithful to his wife. It would appear that his son is not yet married, but that as a father, he is trying to teach him the time-tested value of faithfulness. As a man, he knows the temptations his son is going to face. And if this particular proverb is being written by Solomon, he of all people knows quite a bit about unfaithfulness and a whole lot about marriage. The book of 1 Kings tells us that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. In spite of God’s prohibition against kings multiplying wives for themselves, “Solomon insisted on loving them anyway” (1 Kings 11:2b NLT). Solomon didn’t just have sex with just anyone, he practically had sex with everyone. He was far from faithful to his 700 wives and 300 concubines. So it is a little ironic that he is giving his son this counsel, but we have to recognize it as the wisdom of God. Solomon, while not exactly an icon of virtue when it came to marriage and fidelity, was still the wisest man who ever lived and knew that he didn’t want his own son following in his footsteps.

Yet even today, Solomon’s words sound old-fashioned. He sounds so out of touch with reality. When he says, “Drink water from your won well – share your love only with your wife” (Proverbs 5:15 NLT), it sounds so antiquated and puritanical. In a do-whatever-feels-right kind of society in which we live where everything is driven by our passions, it comes across as so restrictive and unnecessary. Faithfulness has seemingly become a thing of the past. And Satan is constantly attacking marriages in an attempt to thwart God’s plan for faithfulness. We see it modeled for us on TV in the fictional lives of the characters and in the tabloids in the real-life experiences of celebrities and stars. Unfaithfulness is big news and a popular pastime among all kinds of people. Yet God has called us to live out our lives in faithfulness. And He is watching. “For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes” (Proverbs 5:21 NLT). God is aware of not only our unfaithful actions, but our unfaithful hearts. He sees our adulterous behavior, but also our equally adulterous thoughts. And He knows that both are driven by ungodly desires and aided by our lack of self-control. Left to our own devices, we are no match for the sinful passions that are hidden away in our hearts. Faithfulness can’t be manufactured. It is a gift from God. Recognizing our propensity toward unfaithfulness and our own lack of self-control, should drive us to God for help. He alone can make us faithful. He alone can give us the love for our mates that we need to remain at their side through thick and thin. He alone can provide us with the strength to say no to temptation and to refuse the urges to give in to our sinful desires. Faithfulness is a gift from God. It is part of the wisdom He provides as we learn to seek Him and serve Him. He teaches us the value of faithfulness and then equips us with the strength to live it out in our daily relationships. It isn’t old-fashioned. It’s a new way of living life provided by a loving God and made possible by the Spirit of God living within us.

Father, I want to remain faithful to the wife of my youth. And I know that only You can make that possible. I admit to You my need for You. Open my eyes to my own weaknesses, and draw me closer to You for strength, wisdom and the desire to live in faithfulness in every area of my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org